Currently in the US, Kneeling protests during the national anthem at NFL games have caused a tremendous controversy.

The President has been highly critical of the players on these teams who choose to kneel, and has lashed out at them and at the NFL repeatedly for allowing these protests.

Over the past several weeks he has encouraged a boycott of the NFL:

"If NFL fans refuse to go to games until players stop disrespecting our Flag & Country, you will see change take place fast. Fire or suspend!" - Donald J. Trump

He has demanded the NFL change their rules and regulations to ban the protests:

The NFL has all sorts of rules and regulations. The only way out for them is to set a rule that you can't kneel during our National Anthem! - Donald J. Trump

and most recently has threatened that his tax reforms will hurt the NFL because they have allowed the protests to continue:

"Why is the NFL getting massive tax breaks while at the same time disrespecting our Anthem, Flag and Country? Change tax law!" - Donald J. Trump

Quotes pulled directly from Trump's twitter account.

These statements seem to be pretty clearly in violation of this law:


18 U.S. Code § 227 - Wrongfully influencing a private entity’s employment decisions by a Member of Congress or an officer or employee of the legislative or executive branch

(a) Whoever, being a covered government person, with the intent to influence, solely on the basis of partisan political affiliation, an employment decision or employment practice of any private entity—

(1) takes or withholds, or offers or threatens to take or withhold, an official act, or

(2) influences, or offers or threatens to influence, the official act of another, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for not more than 15 years, or both, and may be disqualified from holding any office of honor, trust, or profit under the United States.*

(b) In this section, the term “covered government person” means—

(1) a Senator or Representative in, or a Delegate or Resident Commissioner to, the Congress;

(2) an employee of either House of Congress; or

(3) the President, Vice President, an employee of the United States Postal Service or the Postal Regulatory Commission, or any other executive branch employee (as such term is defined under section 2105 of title 5, United States Code).

The law in question was originally brought to my attention when Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders suggested that ESPN correspondent Jemele Hill should be fired for saying the President is a white supremacist (Also seemingly very clearly in violation of the law.)

Is there something about this law that I am not understanding? I do notice the language stating "solely on the basis of partisan political affiliation" and I guess it's possible to argue that these cases do not meet that criteria.

Why is this law not being enforced however? Simple lack of political will?

EDIT: I was also not certain whether I should be posting this in Law or Poltics StackExchange. If it should be in Law, sorry for the mistake.

Second EDIT: Pertaining to the "solely on the basis of partisan political affiliation" part of the law, would a government employee literally need to say "Fire them because they are a member of **** Party?" or something similar for it to constitute a violation?

  • 5
    I'd challenge the "tremendous controversy" part. "Tempest in a teapot" would seem more appropriate. There's also the question of whether political bombast has, or should be considered to have, any real effect.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 17:23
  • Ehh I don't know. I've seen several heated arguments over the topic and it's eating up a significant part of the news cycle. Tremendous might be overstating it but it's certainly a notable controversy. Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 17:38
  • I think in this case, then it truly would become a First Amendment issue, because it's the government forcing the issue, by putting pressure on the employers. As if this wasn't already a messy, blown out of proportion topic..... Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 18:20
  • 1
    I'd say the law is unConstitutional. Only Congress can try the President, and the only sentence they can impose is removal from office. So, I'd chalk this up as "yet another reason Congress could theoretically impeach and try the President, but probably won't".
    – user2565
    Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 18:55
  • @barrycarter That's not correct. The President is liable to criminal penalties based on his conduct in office. Reread Article I: "Judgment in cases of impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States: but the party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to indictment, trial, judgment and punishment, according to law."
    – cpast
    Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 19:27

2 Answers 2


IANAL but off the bat...

That's "solely on the basis of partisan political affiliation" as you point out, and that seems pretty hard to argue in the case of the NFL.

Next, he didn't actually do anything official, whereas both (a) (1) and (a) (2) require some kind of official act. As official as it may seem in this presidency, rambling on Twitter or on TV is not an official act. If it were, the US and Korea would have been at war weeks ago, etc.

Last, he's technically exercising his first amendment rights. As POTUS, XKCD 1357 doesn't apply.

As to:

would a government employee literally need to say "Fire them because they are a member of **** Party?"

Yes. At the very least it should be strongly implied.

  • 1
    (a)(1) explicitly requires "an official act" and (a)(2) explicitly requires "the official act of another". Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 17:26
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    "Change tax law" is an official act. I doubt public speeches are influencing an official act though. @Schrodinger'sStat MLB I think has some monopoly so might be official by some definition, but I'm pretty sure the NFL is just a company unconnected to the government.
    – user9389
    Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 17:35
  • 1
    @Schrodinger'sStat: If there's no law, executive order, etc. of some kind with a signature, it's not an official act - it's just a rant by a mentally deranged dotard. And there's no offer or threat to do such a thing, it's not an offer or threat to the same effect either. Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 17:56
  • 2
    Look... IMO it's not. But IANAL and, being European, I've no stake in this besides getting to watch a clown show from across the pond. If you disagree, my understanding of US law is that you're able to sue the White House or lobby so that your Representative does that for you. Enjoy that privilege - citizens can't easily do that where I come from or where I live. :-) Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 18:02
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    @Schrodinger'sStat Under any remotely sensible interpretation of the law, "official act" refers to official government acts. The law is about using government power to influence private employment decisions on the basis of partisan affiliation; it's not about people who happen to be government officials influencing these decisions. A member of Congress is allowed to only hire members of their own party for their reelection campaign, for instance.
    – cpast
    Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 19:25

Nothing the president has done appears to have violated this law. He is/has used his position to publicly shame the NFL and the players. This has certainly had a negative impact on their sales and ratings, but those were the actions of individual citizens choosing not to watch/buy.

The closest he appears to have come is commenting on the NFL's tax status. However, most if not all of the tax breaks he is talking about are at the local or state level, so he has no control or authority over them. Thus we are back to shaming them, not taking any official acts against them.

The law in question was originally brought to my attention when Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders suggested that ESPN correspondent Jemele Hill should be fired for saying the President is a white supremacist (Also seemingly very clearly in violation of the law.)

Now this is interesting. Let's look at what the press secretary said. Everything that I have been able to find, including your post, indicates that she suggested that this talking head on ESPN be fired. In context she is offering an opinion of both the behavior of this correspondent and what she thinks that the employer should do about it. However, what she doesn't appear to be doing is saying that the correspondent must be fired or ESPN will face consequences from the Executive branch. Because this is an opinion, not a threat or action (not that the press secretary has any authority to order actions against anyone) it would be, similar to the president, an exercise of her 1st Amendment rights.

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